In the early years of the 20th century, doctors and researchers were stymied by a mysterious, often fatal illness that seemed to strike primarily Southern agricultural workers.
Patients presented with a severe rash, intestinal issues and dementia, and in addition to farm workers, many afflicted were found in institutions like mental hospitals and orphanages. After reviewing cases from Europe, doctors diagnosed pellagra and associated it with poverty and a poor diet featuring moldy corn. As the disease spread, the country’s medical leadership searched for causes and cures, and the sense of urgency led to the assignment of epidemiologist Dr. Joseph Goldberger to the case. Eventually, Goldberger and those who continued the work after his death identified the culprit as a vitamin deficiency, determined an inexpensive cure and led the way to nutritionally enhanced foods as part of the American diet. This is a highly detailed look at the difficulties of disease control before modern medicine. Jarrow makes clear how societal attitudes hampered efforts to end the scourge as well as the vulnerability of the poor and marginalized. The many photographs also reveal the devastating nature of the disease. The large number of cases described demonstrates the magnitude of the problem, but they can also be hard to follow and require patient readers.
The attractive, red-highlighted design, lively narrative and compelling subject matter will resonate with readers. (Nonfiction. 10 & up)